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Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale Hardcover – August 15, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American ed edition (August 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393051218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393051216
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Hooper offers an engaging account of H.B.D. Kettlewell's famous field experiments on the peppered moth, which were widely known as "Darwin's missing evidence," proof of natural selection in action until 1998, that is, when biologist Michael Majerus showed Kettlewell's findings to be falsified and wrong. Hooper peers into the lives of Kettlewell and his mentor and eventual adversary, the imperious and brilliant E.B. Ford, revealing the human factors that don't get written into the research papers "recriminations, intrigue, jealousy, back-stabbing and shattered dreams." Ford, a Darwinian zealot hell-bent on proving natural selection, serves as a foil for the broader questions raised here about dogmatism in science. Natural selection had the dubious distinction of being as widely accepted as it was short on evidence, and the moth experiments were greeted as a pivotal victory; indeed, despite evidence to the contrary, many scientists today still embrace Kettlewell's findings, in part because denying them opens the door to "the bogeyman of creationism." As Hooper writes, the peppered moths provided "a damned good story, a narrative so satisfying, so seductive, that no one can bear to let it go. But a story alone is no substitute for truth." Hooper's lively history also traces the extinction of old-school natural history, embodied by Kettlewell, who was very much left behind with the synthesis of Darwinism and Mendelian genetics, and who died a suicide.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Recalling challenges to Mendel's statistical data or the veracity of the Piltdown man, this book places another scientific icon on the slippery slope of suspicion. The peppered moth said to have adapted its coloring to fit the environment, thus insuring its survival has been used to validate Darwin's theory of natural selection for almost 50 years. Now, this classic textbook case is being contested. In this absorbing historical account, reporter Hooper (The Three-Pound Universe) tracks initial efforts to meld Darwinism and evolutionary theory. Among the many contributors to this quest were Darwinian fanatic E.B. Ford and his prot‚g‚, outstanding lepidopterist H.B.D. Kettlewell, who performed the legendary experiment with light and dark moths that supposedly caught natural selection in the act. In fact, there have been doubts about the peppered moth experiments for the past 20 years or more, and Hooper shows how the scientists inadvertently sought to confirm their belief in natural selection rather than actually testing the hypothesis, changing methods when results did not agree with the selection hypothesis. As Hooper ably demonstrates, our understanding is molded by subjective as well as objective factors; self-interest, personality, contrasting worldviews, and human foibles influence the construction of scientific tests and the interpretation of evidence. An engaging detective story that elegantly brings the characters to life; suitable for public and academic libraries. Rita Hoots, Woodland Coll., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

In general OMAM is a very entertaining and informative read about a very interesting slice of science and life.
Hooper, however, gives Sargent a huge platform and gives his numerous critics, and their published rebuttals to Sargent, very short shrift.
Her descriptions of the personalities involved and the history of their interactions are detailed and entertaining.
Rob Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Why does the theory of evolution matter? And what demonstrable evidence can we point to that shows its mechanism operating within the life-span of a living organism? Anyone who took high school biology in the latter half of the 20th century is familiar with the photos of moths that "prove" the adaptive changes at work in this species, favoring the survival of black moths in industrially polluted England and the increased predation suffered by their lighter-hued cousins. The research, the experiments, and the resultant glory were centered around a tiny group of scientists at Oxford; the theoretical geneticist at the heart of the endeavor was E.B Ford, the field experimenter was Bernard Kettlewell. Until quite recently their evidence, and their theories, have gone unchallenged, but lately there has been a significant shift in the paradigm of adaptive evolution that they held sacred. Moreover, many of their experimetnal techniques, data, and conclusions have come under serious question by a new generation of scientists.
In her engrossing book, OF MOTHS AND MEN, Judith Hooper revisits the story of the theory of evolution, from Darwin's masterful insight to later refinements and controversies around the basic assumptions. This in itself is no small accomplishment, and her narrative is both lucid and compelling, but this is really just the necessary background to her real tale. Next she paints a compelling portrait of the handful of scientists at Oxford who set out to illustrate adaptive mechanisms once and for all from nature; not coincidentally, she gives us an incisive view of intellectual life at the pinnacle of the biological sciences establishment in mid-century England.
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54 of 74 people found the following review helpful By "ntamzek" on August 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The fundamental rule of science journalism should be "first, get the science right". Unfortunately, Hooper's book is marred by One Big Mistake: namely, Hooper misrepresents the state of the scientific question on Kettlewell's explanation for industrial melanism in the peppered moth, namely differential predation by birds against moth morphs more or less cryptic in polluted woodlands. Reading Hooper's book, one would think that this thesis, what I call the "Bird Predation Theory" (BPT), was on the rocks. But this just ain't so -- if we read peppered moth researcher Michael Majerus' (2002) book Moths, we find him writing on page 252,
[E]very scientist I know who has worked on melanism in the Peppered moth in the field still regards differential predation of the morphs in different habitats as of prime importance in the case. The critics of work on this case and those who cast doubt on its validity are, without exception, persons who have, as far as I know, never bred the moth and never conducted an experiment on it. In most cases they have probably never seen a live Peppered moth in the wild. Perhaps those who have the most intimate knowledge of this moth are the scientists who have bred it, watched it and studied it, in both the laboratory and the wild. These include, among others, the late Sir Cyril Clarke, Professors Paul Brakefield, Laurence Cook, Bruce Grant, K. Mikkola, Drs Rory Howlett, Carys Jones, David Lees, John Muggleton and myself. I believe that, without exception, it is our view that the case of melanism in the Peppered moth still stands as one of the best examples of evolution, by natural selection, in action.
Hooper, however, presents the peppered moth case as if it were falling apart, a story which of course the press reviews have uncritically repeated.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Like many others, I was convinced of the power of natural selection via the peppered moth story in introductory college biology. I heard about this book in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Discover, and Science, and thought I'd better give it a read, for my own education. I did get an education, but more than that. "Of Moths and Men" reads like a novel. I loved the real-life characters--Bernard Kettlewell, EB Ford, Ted Sargent. A real pleasure to read, even if you don't care about evolution, and a tale about how science is really done. A cross between Crime and Punishment and A Confederacy of Dunces.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. S. Braterman on July 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
I started reading this book as part of a research project on Kettlewell, its subject, who is described in it as a fraud. No pleasure was involved, because of the book's overwritten novelettish style. Fortunately, I did not have to persevere, since I discovered that Majerus, Kettlewell's severest critic on technical grounds (in chapter 6 of his book "Melanism, Evolution in Action"), describes this work as "littered with errors, misrepresentations, misinterpretations and falsehoods" (lecture, 12 Feb 2004 at LSE, through [...] while Coyne, who famously repeated Majerus's criticisms in a book review (Nature 1998), has dismissed Hooper's work as "a flimsy conspiracy theory ... [which] unfairly smears a brilliant naturalist (Nature 2002)."

There are further ironies. Majerus was personally responsible (numerous papers, leading up to Cook et al., Biology Letters 2012) for vindicating Kettlewell's principal thesis of evolution as driven by camouflage against predation. Coyne, in addition to his technical work, is the author of "Why Evolution is True." Meantime creationists in their literature continue to cite Kettlewell's work as evidence that evolution science is fraudulent.
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